Let them draw cake.
I never paid much attention in art class in high school. I never went to art college. I’ve never gone to a single weekend watercolor workshop. I’ve just blundered along for a decade or more, spilling ink, contaminating my palette and painting on non-archival cardboard.
I’m uneducated. And so when it came to teaching other people how to make art, gulp.
This year though I’ve committed to shedding my “aw, shucks, I never lurned nuffin” guise and start trying to be a decent teacher. At first, that was like sitting down with a delicious, lavishly decorated three-tiered German chocolate cake and trying to work out the recipe. I thought I’d have to retrofit everything I have layered onto my brain through all these years of experimenting and dissecting art in museums and talking to people whose work blows me away and weeping bitterly at another god-awful journal page.
I like talking about ideas and all of the experiments I’ve done and the discoveries I’ve made but when I taught classes I thought to give folks their money’s worth I’d better start with the basics of drawings as they come out of all the how-to books in the library. Contours, negative space, proportion, etc. That is useful stuff to know, in hindsight, but it can be awfully dry. Like starting to learn a language by spending a few semesters studying grammar or learning music theory before you pick up your first guitar.
My old hobo pal, Dan Price would say to me, “I just draw a shape, then the shape next to it, then the one next to that and before long you got a drawing that looks like something and then we can go have a beer.” And that’s probably the most valuable art lesson I ever got. Just start somewhere and keep it interesting so you keep going.
Keep it interesting.
What’s been so incredible about working on Sketchbook Skool is seeing all the ways my friends approach the assignment we have given them all: to boil down everything they know about drawing and journaling into a one-time, one-week klass. And they’ve all done completely different things! Nothing you’d find in a textbook. Just the stuff that comes out of them when they sit down to draw, as varied as they are. There’re no detailed recipes, but there’s lots of delicious cake and, by watching them bake it, you come away just knowing how you will do it. And that’s the key, how you will do it.
All of which has made me do two things: one, rethink the workshops I’m going to be doing, starting with the one at the Open Center in New York as the beginning of next month. and two, have really fun doing it. Because instead of teaching others how to do what I was never taught to do, I’m just going to grab them by the scruff and toss them into the deep end. I’m thinking of all kinds of ways of getting people who are deathly afraid of drawing and stabbing a syringe full of adrenaline into their artistic hearts. And the same and more goes for people who think they all know there is about drawing but want a little something to spice up their marriage to the muse.
I have had that feeling so often with drawing, when you sort of sigh and the pen feels like it’s made of lead dipped in shit and then suddenly there’s a hairpin turn that rattles my bones, and I’m off on some wild groove through a place I’ve never been before and it’s all very new and energizing and the page I’m making is fresh and sparkly. Hey, and don’t forget, at this point I am a clown school grad so I know first hand how to slip on a red nose and get embarrassing.
My revelation: it’s not about showing people how to read a map and use a compass and where to get their shots and what to pack and where all the tourists go for pizza. It’s about flinging open the door of the plane, grabbing hold of them and jumping the hell out in the middle of the jungle.
So I’m thinking of weird and silly things to do that will either send them off itching to draw every waking minute of every day or lining up at the registrar’s office to get a full refund. (Hey, and if you have any genius thoughts I can totally steal, let me know. I still have twenty-three days till the workshop).
I think there’s a week left on The Open Center’s Early Bird rate so if you like worms, fly over to their web site and sign up.